Tag Archives: house lift

Sewer Line to be Buried 4 Feet Under

SEWER LINE CLEAN-OUT: Yesterday we had a team of drain specialists come by to effectively power wash our sewer line. Although this service call does not directly have any relationship to our elevation project, it was paramount that we determined the integrity of our sewer line prior to burying it under 4 feet of cement. The only reason we are investigating it now is because we were having slow drain issues.

We will still have access to the clean out line (I’m learning so many fascinating new things about housing), but the portion that runs underneath the ground between our house and the street will now be under our front steps. As I really don’t want to plan to rip out newly built steps, we wanted to be assured that any sewer line issue was resolved.

A diagnostic camera was fed into our sewer line.

A diagnostic camera was fed into our sewer line.

Sort of like a colonoscopy for your sewer line.

Sort of like a colonoscopy for your sewer line.

Our drain specialist gave the sewer line a clean bill of health after blasting away encroaching tree roots with water.  The gravitational pull produced by the added elevation of our house will really keep things flowing.

Do you know what happens to sewer pipes during a flood? They overflow. Keeping that nasty flood water out of our house is one more good reason to elevate it.

Architectural Pitfalls

WE’VE HIT A SNAG: The biggest snafu we’ve encountered with our project to date is with the design of the new front staircase. The number of steps required is dictated by building codes based on the height of the house, but the design aspect allows for some creativity. This process is usually a collaboration between the homeowner and their architect. But what happens when your architect turns out to be a shirker, not a worker?

Our seasoned architect is established in our community and has drafted several other elevation projects in our neighborhood.  We assumed his experience would translate into a smooth endeavor. It’s turned out to be about as smooth as a cross country flight subjected to frequent bouts of bone jarring turbulence.

TROUBLE BREWING: The first sign of trouble came with the second set of drawings. The first set had a few errors: windows in the wrong place, insufficient details and a front stair design we more or less disliked. Not only did the stairs he suggested take up the majority of our front yard, but they also required making five turns before reaching the front door. Five! Good luck moving any furniture through that maze.

Note how much real estate these stair consume. Fine on a wider property, like this one.

NOT our design – you would need to add one MORE turn. Note how much real estate these stairs consume. Fine on a wider property, like this one.

Subsequent sets of drawings were just as poor. Initially, we kindly declined his version of the staircase and suggested straight steps would be more fitting to our house. He attempted to sway us, suggesting that a gradual rise would be more palatable to people than a straight run. Not if they have to get dizzy just getting to the front door. And whose paying for these stairs anyway? Oh, yeah, not you!

As per protocol, the drawings were first shown to the zoning board who granted us the required variances. This board even thanked us for going to all the trouble to lift our house out of the floodplain, decreasing our burden on the community – all at our expense. Things had not completely deteriorated just yet.

THE NEXT HURTLE: The next hurtle to our staircase issue was an approval from the architectural review board (ARB). This seven member volunteer panel who evaluate exterior design elements convene just twice a month, with strict submission guidelines and deadlines. After weeks of empty promises and unexplained delays, our architect showed us the “updated” plans he was going to present to (ARB). There were a few minor changes, but the U-shape style steps remained on the plans despite our strong opposition. We had even shown him photographs of the exact style we desired – straight steps. But due to his unending procrastination there was no time to change them. Plus, he had led us to believe we could easily change course in the future.

Straight style with a landing in the middle.

Straight style with a landing in the middle.

Straight style

Elevated house with straight style stairs

So the ARB saw the swirl of U-shaped stairs first. Along with other details that they evaluated, such as window placement and flood vent locations, this board passed our plans. Good news, right? Sort of … Before we can build the stairs we want, the ARB has to see and approve them. Which meant another meeting, which meant delays. The next meeting, primarily for just evaluating the front stairs, the ARB denied our new proposal. The board preferred the gigantic U-shape style. Our architect was unwilling or unable to sway this decision on our behalf.

As our construction is already underway, we are running out of time. Our choices are limited. Attempt to overturn the decision by presenting our plans to the zoning board (protocol) or taking our chances and presenting to the ARB again with a different version of stairs.


How Many Balloons Would it Take to Lift a House?

After stopping by my construction site this morning and learning that we had several serious snags and disconnections between our architect, the builders, and the local building department, I needed a little levity. Does lifting a house really need to be so complicated?

Not according to the Movato Real Estate Blog. They’ve actually figured out the exact number of helium balloons (the sort you can buy at any party supply store) it would take to lift a house based on average weight per square foot.

Pixar Animation Studios and Walt Disney Pictures

According to the interactive calculator you can find on their website, it would take roughly 77,646,000 balloons to lift my house. That’s a lot of hot air! By comparison, the White House would need a whopping 2,976,470,589 balloons. The one glitch I can see right off the bat – and they would be numerous – is how we could maintain the helium inside the balloons long enough for our crew to build up the foundation walls.

“Sorry, we had the house lifted and were all set to build the new foundation so your house would no longer endure any future flooding, but the darn helium escaped before could finish the job.”

Although our architect is full of it, unfortunately “it” doesn’t happen to be helium. Or ideas. Or time management proficiency. Or even accuracy, for that matter. So while the “lift” went off with nary a worry, the same can not be said for our architectural plans.

It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane … No, It’s my House!

WEEK 5 STARTS WITH A BANG! Mission accomplished – now the time intensive work can begin.

After spending more than a week preparing the house it was ready for the big lift.  Ever so slowly, one wooden beam (about 6 inches) at a time, the house was lifted.  A wooden beam (also known as cribbing) was inserted at every pressure point, then lifted another 6 inches, etc., until the predetermined height was reached. Total time: about 5 hours for this portion.


House pulls away from the foundation

House pulls away from the foundation easier than you might think


Before: Holes cut into the foundation and steel beams were gingerly inserted.

After ...

After: House lifted straight up; note the white trim in each picture. The foundation wall, in our case, had to be knocked down.

Before ...




Our boys checking out the site

Checking out the site

The door over their heads used to be one step from the garage floor.

Standing under the house. The door over their heads used to be one step from the garage floor.

Back of house: Before

Back of house: Before



ALL THE CRIBBING IS IN PLACE: Note the cribbing that’s been placed to buttress the steel beams that support the house. The house is finally out of the path of a flood. Can I get a “hell yeah!” However, the lift is actually the easy part of this job. Next our construction crew has to come in to rebuild the foundation walls which should take about 3 weeks. Then, Payne Construction, our lifting company, returns to remove the steel beams and lower the house about a foot onto the new foundation.

House Lift Preparation

WEEK FOUR:  Lift process continues: holes were cut into the foundation to secure room for the steel beams.

Former front steps area

Former front steps

Holes cut around the perimeter of the property

Holes cut around the perimeter of the property

Because we have a narrow lot and in close proximity to our neighbors, the job was especially  tricky. If they had unlimited space to work (e.g., a house in an open field) and one that was all one level (e.g., shaped like a shoe box)  – the house could be lifted in a day or two. Our job took a bit more time.

The beams were inserted in cross-directions to support the house during the lift with the use of a crane and lots of patience.

Snaking the steel beam through the house

Snaking the steel beam through the house

Beams run end to end though the house

Establishing New Elevation Height

Our builder, architect, and lift expert all reviewed the proposed new elevation height, comparing the blueprints with the tree markings (see picture below).

Bottom to top: Base flood elevation, new family room height, new front of house height.

Bottom to top: Base flood elevation, new family room height, new front of house height.

For the construction crew to actually work underneath our house while building up the foundation walls, initially the house will be lifted a foot higher than the intended height. The house will sit in the air, supported by steel beams, wood pylons and hydraulic  jacks before being lowered back down onto the newly built foundation.

Base Flood Elevation

Tell-tale signs of change

Tell-tale signs of change

Three markers were placed in our tree highlighting the key elevations of our property. They were determined based on our city codes and FEMA. They had to be measured for accuracy and placed by a surveyor. The top of each pink ribbon is the official line.

The lowest ribbon defines the base flood elevation (BFE) for our property. The BFE is the 100-year flood line or a flood that has a 1% chance of occurring in any given year.

“The BFE is the regulatory requirement for the elevation or floodproofing of structures. The relationship between the BFE and a structure’s elevation determines the flood insurance premium.” (source: FEMA)

Our community additionally stipulates that any elevation project lift  2 feet higher than the BFE.

The middle pink ribbon illustrates what will be the new elevation of our back family room. The highest pink ribbon illustrates the what will be the new elevation of the front of our house.

For more information check out:

What is my Advisory Base Flood Elevation (ABFE)?